The Youth Advocacy Foundation provides education advocacy to Massachusetts' most vulnerable youth. Our Mission is to end the school-to-prison pipeline insuring that all low-income, court-involved children in MA have access to expert legal advocacy in matters of special education and school discipline. We do this through a small experts who support the one thousand attorneys who represent 25,000 kids statewide! Our mission is to ensure that these students have access to a quality education and remain in school. Your donation to YAF creates incredible financial and social leverage!
A quality education is critical to safe and healthy youth development. Although Massachusetts is often celebrated for having the best public schools in the nation, our state also has one of the worst racial inequities for school achievement, school exclusion, and juvenile justice system involvement. In Massachusetts, Black students are three times more likely and Latinx are over two times more likely to be suspended than their White peers for the same or similar behaviors. Our public schools do not provide the same quality education to all children in the state. Thousands of children drop out or are pushed out and end up funneled through the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Children of color, those living with disabilities, and kids growing up in poverty are overrepresented in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and later, adult criminal legal systems. When students get what they need to succeed and remain in school they enter adulthood with a much brighter future.
The link between academic failure and poor life outcomes is a strong one. Every year thousands of Massachusetts children “graduate” from fourth grade not proficient in reading or math, including 70% of children of color. Two-thirds of all children who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare, or both. 85% of all juveniles involved with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. In addition, 75% of children in foster care are behind at least one grade level. And children in foster care are twice as likely as their peers to drop out of school. Only 3% of foster children go on to graduate from college.
Over the last 20 years, the increased presence of law enforcement in our schools has led to an explosion of school-based arrests for issues that historically had been handled by school administration. In Massachusetts, over 53% of school-based arrests are for non-violent, non-criminal behaviors. Many of these behaviors are actually rooted in disabilities or trauma. To make matters worse, over 50% of school-based arrests occur at alternative and therapeutic schools: the very places children with special needs are assigned to get supportive care to help them learn.
Students who are excluded are three times more likely to drop out and those that drop out are three times more likely to end up in adult prisons. This School-to-Prison Pipeline devastates communities and undermines public safety, and it is far more expensive than keeping kids in school. In Massachusetts, sending a young person to a juvenile correctional facility costs approximately eight times the average annual per pupil cost for education. The cost of adult incarceration is even greater. It has been estimated that children who are pushed out of school and become ensnared in the adult criminal legal system will cost taxpayers between $2 and $4 million dollars over their lifetimes. Ensuring a child graduates from high school, however, offers $250,000 in lifetime earnings for the child rather than an expense to taxpayers. If that young person graduates from college, that figure quadruples. The favorable economics of investing in education advocacy is tremendous.
The EdLaw Project’s primary goal is to ensure court-involved children in Massachusetts are zealously supported to stay in school and succeed. We have a proven track record of helping vulnerable youth in Massachusetts. In our close to 20-year history, we have provided direct representation and support to over 1,800 children. We recognize, however, that there is more work to be done. Each year, upwards of 25,000 Massachusetts children come into contact with the legal system through child welfare involvement, or through delinquency charges. Each of these kids is appointed a dedicated public defender specially trained in Positive Youth Development who has access to a network of community resources.
There is no separate right to representation in matters of education, which is why having court-appointed attorneys include education advocacy as part of effective representation of kids is an innovative approach to shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline. The EdLaw Project, which has been a successful high-impact legal program, can improve the futures of even more children through the addition of a statewide network of education advocacy mentors who can champion this work within the counties and courthouses where these court-appointed attorneys practice. The long-term potential impact could profoundly impact the inequities Massachusetts has in both education and justice outcomes. Your donation to our Marathon Team will allow us to build this statewide network.